Debate Continues Over Conscientious Objector Bill For Counseling Students

Category: State Issues

The Tennessee House Education Committee will resume the debate this year over legislation that impacts counseling, social work, and psychology programs in public higher education.  The legislation is based on the ill-informed assumption that the practice of social work and psychological counseling is fundamentally about providing spiritual and personal advice.

In reality, the professional practice of social work and psychological counseling involves the clinical application of treatment to persons irrespective of their spiritual needs.  The legislation (HB1185/SB0514) allows a counseling student to arbitrarily deny treatment to any client with whom they might claim to have a religious difference.

Students are made fully aware of the ethical codes governing the training programs at the beginning of their respective academic programs.   Yet, proponents of the legislation argue that the ethical codes that require counselors, including student trainees, to treat the clinical needs of all patients should no longer be recognized as reasonable guides.

Social Work and Psychology professionals have clearly defined scopes of practice and ethical guidelines adopted by national associations, which govern their respective professions.  The implication from proponents is clear:  Professional obligation to provide clinical treatment, even through a state sponsored clinical program, does not apply if the client’s religious belief differs from that of the practitioner.  Perhaps the greatest damage done by such legislation is the implication that emergency rooms and courtrooms will be next.  Proponents argue that the accrediting associations such as the American Psychological Association, and by extension, the American Bar Association, or the American Medical Association, have no standing in Tennessee.  The bill, which has passed in the Senate already, has the potential to capriciously damage the training and professional practices of counseling in Tennessee.


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